Men's Basketball Preview #3 - The Bigs

Stephen Dunn

To finish up our preseason previews of each position groups we'll take a look at the Bigs. We have some returning underclassmen and a few new faces. So how are things looking in the Cal front-court?

Kodiak: Cal should get a huge boost defensively and on the boards with the return of Richard Solomon. From what little we saw of him last year, his offensive game was still a work in progress. He's so athletic that he's sometimes tempted to do too much; ie. drive or take pull-up jumpshots instead of just establishing himself down low. It'll be interesting to see what another year of work on his footwork and post moves has done.

David Kravish was one of the best young bigs that Cal has had in a very long time. Usually, true frosh post players set records for getting saddled on the bench with foul trouble. He showed a real knack for using his length to block shots and as well as a nice touch around the basket on offense. With another year to get stronger and put on some good weight, he could form a really nice tandem with Solomon.

Robert Thurman was more than solid as a reserve big. He moves well without the ball and showed the ability to finish when set up. He might not match up well against some of the quicker post players in the league, but he has the size and bulk to be really valuable against the bruisers. I'd expect a nice senior campaign from him.

Christian Behrens was slowed by injury last year. Unfortunately, he burned his blue shirt without making a lot of contribution on the court. He showed off some length and athleticism that we were otherwise lacking in the post. If he can figure out where he needs to be in our sets, he's a candidate to back up both in the post and on the wing.

Bak Bak is a nice guy who has worked hard to get stronger. Missing Cal's pre-season Euro trip really set him back last year. He's always had a nice jumpshot. The issue has been consistency on defense. It would be really nice to see the light come on and have him play with confidence.

With Sami Elarky not qualifying, Khalil Johnson and Kaileb Rodriguez are the incoming bigs. Johnson is more of a 3/4 tweener who is likely to blue shirt. Rodriguez is a power forward known for his athleticism and upside. He's another likely candidate to blue shirt.

For all the depth problems we've had the past several years, Cal might actually have some size to rely upon this year if players continue to develop. We might see more high post sets, high-low looks, and inside-out ball movement than relying on just our perimeter game. Monty always does nice work with his bigs, so there's a lot to be excited about here.

NorCalNick: I've been an unabashed Richard Solomon booster for a good long while now, and his return to the team is the #1 reason for optimism this year. Even without Solomon Cal did well on the boards because David Kravish and Allen Crabbe stepped up. Throw Solomon into the mix and Cal could end up being an elite rebounding team, particularly on the defensive glass.

He'll also take pressure off of David Kravish, particularly on defense. Two rangy, atheltic shot blockers is better than one. Cal will miss Harper Kamp's incredibly sound fundamental post defense, but hopefully Solomon's reach and explosiveness makes up the difference.

What will be interesting to see is how much Solomon's offensive game has grown after a long layoff. He'll get his points in transition and when guards set him up for easy baskets. Has he developed a stronger back-to-the-basket game? If so it would add a nice dimension to Cal's offense, though I'm not necessarily counting on it.

LeonPowe: From my fellow CGB writers I see a lot of references to post play and back to the basket .. . and I'd say two things: 1. We have a lot of depth in the front court. With Solomon, Kravish, Behrens, Bak, The Thurminator - that's a decent 5 man rotation with a potential breakout star in Solomon. 2. Post play? Back to the basket moves? Basketball in 2012 has moved beyond that with stretch 4's and even 5s extending the defense. In the Pac-12 how many real old school post players are there? Josh Smith? Brock Motum? The new direction of basketball - high pick and rolls or pick and fades with your centers. I'm not worried - as long as they can face-up, do rim runs and protect the rim on defense. I have become a convert to the no-post play necessary face of 2012 basketball. The Miami Heat won the championship with Chris Bosh taking 17 footers. Kentucky won a national championship with Anthony Davis flying around, grabbing offensive boards, blocking shots - but not catching the ball in the post and doing drop steps and up-and-unders or any classic post moves - or at least that wasn't his dominant mode of scoring.

Even recent Cal star Ryan Anderson operated from all over the floor.

I'm not worried about post play. Just block shots, rebound, and be mobile.

NorCalNick: A good point, LP. When I think about Stanford-era Monty, I think about back to the basket post players. But Monty has repeatedly shown at Cal that he knows how to adapt his strategy to the skill-set of the players he has.
I think an interesting question this year is how much better Kravish can be with a year of experience and a year of weight training under his belt. A sophomore leap is in play, especially if Solomon's prescence on the court means more favorable matchups and less attention.

FrankCohen: I really think Robert Thurman is going to surprise people this year. The leap he made over last off-season was pretty incredible, and I think that trend will continue. He's always had the body, but Monty has really coached him up. "Big Rob" now has some nice back-to-the-basket moves down low to match a huge confidence boost that came with effective play last season. He's also developed into quite the vocal leader of the squad. He might have joined the Golden Bears as a walk-on, but make no mistake about it, Thurman is certainly capable of giving us some big minutes.

I also believe that Christian Behrens is going to be much-improved this season. He's a hard worker who showed some flashes of his talent during the 2011-2012 campaign. Another off-season with Montgomery will definitely help him develop the necessary consistency to earn some meaningful minutes on a regular basis.

Vincent S: I agree with everyone; Solomon's return will be huge. Solomon's presence down low single-handedly changes our entire defensive dynamic. Suddenly, drive penetration isn't quite as attractive an option for opposing teams, as Solomon can, and will, rack up blocks all night down low if given the opportunity.

Kravish is Kravish. Smart player with a elegant close-to-mid-range game. Theo's tweets seem to indicate that he's also packed on some muscle, which should help agains the Josh Smiths of the Pac-12.

Again, this has been repeated before, but I really think that the Bears will go as Robert Thurman goes. He's a physically imposing specimen of a post, and I trust Frank's assessment of his improvement. The one problem I think he'll have is against quicker, athletic bigs; Thurman absolutely has to develop better foot-speed and agility if he doesn't want to get into foul trouble. Then again, how many big, strong, athletic-freaks-of-nature are we going to run into?

That's a nice rotation. Anyone else stepping up (I consider Behrens a taller wing, Frid is unproven, Bak is bak) a nice bonus.

Ohio Bear: For me, Solo and Kravish are the keys to success. If Solo has everything off the court in order and comes back an improved offensive player, he will be a force to be reckoned with. He's a good defender already and gives us a missing piece that we sorely lacked last year, especially against So Fla in the NCAA tourney game.

Kravish is a quintessential Monty big guy. Smart, fundamentally sound, good rebounder, does little things well. I expect he will be an improved player over his frosh season, so that can only be good.

Sure, we can get quality minutes out of Thurman and maybe Behrens and Bak. But Solo and Kravish will be the stalwarts, I think, as far as our big men go.
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